Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico on walking routes, property taxes, and downtown struggles

    “Five Questions with …” is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania’s top urban thinkers and doers. 

    Q: Tell us about an amenity or service that you’ve seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to Altoona.

    A: Philadelphia is a very walkable city, I would like to see Altoona become more walker and biker friendly. More bike paths and walking routes in the downtown area would be great to have. A fellow councilman even suggested a walking “route” in the downtown with mile markers posted so you knew how far you were walking/jogging.

    Q: What’s one urban improvement idea that you could categorize as “nice try but didn’t work”?

    A: I think when we decided to go 100 percent Land Value Tax, it missed the mark on what it was intended to do. It was supposed to motivate homeowners to want to improve their dwellings without seeing their property taxes go up from the city, but a lot of homeowners in the city are unaware of how it works. So I don’t think it was properly promoted. For instance, you could build a $3 million house on a two acre parcel of land, and you’re only taxed by the city on the value of the land, and not the structure on it. However, the school district and the county still tax you by the structure, so it can be very confusing. If those two taxing bodies were also able to tax based on LVT, then it could have the right effect, but they are not.

    Q: Describe a person in your community who is a “spark” — someone who seems to get things done and inspire people.

    A: I would have to say Chancellor Lori Bechtel-Wherry from Penn State Altoona. She cares greatly about the city and loves to give back in any way that she can. And it shows by the way they are molding the downtown with a greater presence of classrooms, and students who are populating the area.

    Q: What flaw or habit does your city/community have that you would like to see change?

    A: I wish more residents could see what a great city we have. There are a lot of positive things on the horizon for us, that will get Altoona back on a successful path. Every city is facing the same challenges and problems that we are, some are just on a larger scale.

    Q: Tell us about a movie or book that depicts, in a way that grabbed your attention, how a city can thrive or fail.

    A: Saving America’s Cities by David McDonald. The author reached out to me and sent me a copy of his book because he heard through a mutual friend the struggles we were facing with our downtown. I learned so much from reading it, and I would encourage others to also check it out.

    Is there someone you know who thinks hard about cities and knows how to get things done? Someone whom Keystone Crossroads should spend “Five Questions with …” Please let us know in the comment sections below or via Facebook or Twitter @Pacrossroads.

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